Malibu – Robo Sapiens

Malibu - Robo SapiensEver since I heard the TV Eyes album a few years ago, I’ve been pining for more from that particular side project. Given that it’s a side project for Jellyfish alumni Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner, and Manning’s occasional collaborator Brian Reitzell, it’s a given that it might be a while before we hear these busy musicians reform TV Eyes. Little did I know that Manning and his cohorts basically followed up on that album under a different name, only a year later!

Malibu is a pseudonym for Manning, and Robo Sapiens is Malibu’s debut album of heavily-’80s-influenced dance pop. This isn’t normally a genre I’d spend too much time with, but as with TV Eyes, Manning’s own leanings make sure that the ’80s influence is worn on Malibu’s sleeve for all to see. The opening track, “Yesteryear”, kicks in with arpeggiating keyboards and echoplexed guitar licks courtesy of Jason Falkner, and the retro synths are the real deal, restored for these sessions. It sounds like it should be the background music for a kick-ass TV sports montage.

Other highlights include “Rubber Tubes”, “German Oil” and “Parisian Nights”, latter of which takes a very circa-1980 sound and then flirts with chiptunes in the same track; there are quite a few songs with lyrics here, but almost all of the lyrics are processed through a vocoder or some other means of creating a robotic sound. The best example of this is “Please Don’t Go”, though there are plenty of others. For those looking for a solid TV Eyes connection, there’s an extended version of “She Gets Around” here, which fits in perfectly with the sound of the rest of the album.

3 out of 4Now that we know that these boys aren’t averse to revisiting the ’80s just for the pure musical fun of it, I all but demand a repeat engagement – whether as TV Eyes or as Malibu. Manning and friends have managed to distill all that was cool about ’80s music into two very cool projects. Let’s go for the trifecta.

Order this CD

  1. Yesterday (5:34)
  2. The Bounce (6:19)
  3. German Oil (6:18)
  4. Sidekicks (7:12)
  5. She Gets Around (6:21)
  6. Rubber Tubes (5:33)
  7. Parisian Nights (5:09)
  8. Animal Lovin’ Ken (6:11)
  9. Time To Time (5:05)
  10. D.I.E.T. (6:31)
  11. Please Don’t Go (4:20)

Released by: Expansion Team
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 64:33

Split Enz – The Rootin’ Tootin’ Luton Tapes

Split Enz - The Rootin' Tootin' Luton TapesFor much of of 1978, Split Enz seemed to have reached the end of the road. Having lost their label contract, their management, and almost all of their live work, the band was stranded in England with only a grant from the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council in their native New Zealand to sustain them through the lean times. At this point, lead singer/songwriter Tim Finn’s younger brother, Neil, had been with the band for less than a year. With no concerts to play, the emphasis was on writing and rehearsing (and, when they could afford it, recording) new material, and with Phil Judd having come and gone again, Neil had his first chance to try to add his own songwriting touch to the band’s sound. In June and July of 1978, the Enz converged on a studio in Luton to record their new material, with songs written by both of the Finns. And the irony of it is that only a few of those recordings have been heard until now.

Approximately half of the songs recorded at Luton were honed further and re-recorded from scratch as the group’s 1979 album Frenzy. The other half were occasionally dusted off (and sometimes re-recorded) as B-sides for singles (this being back in the days when there were still physical singles, and when those singles still had B-sides), while others never saw the light of day. Poised precariously between the original Split Enz remit of arty, complicated rock with ambitious arrangements and challenging tempo changes, and the group’s more sharply-focused ’80s pop-going-on-new-wave sound, these are the Luton sessions, revealed at last after 30 years to satisfy relentless pressure from the group’s loyal fans down through the years.

Is there a reason these recordings weren’t issued at some point back then? Well…yeah. They’re definitely diamonds in the rough, and there’s almost zero stylistic unity in the material. With nothing to lose (how much lower could they go from being unemployed in another country, with no recording contract and no promotion?), the band can clearly be heard revisiting its old sound, taking various approaches to revamping it, and even trying on and discarding whole new styles as they saw fit. The bulk of the songs are still Tim’s, though the tunes written by Neil are a revelation. Some of the songs represent his earliest songwriting efforts, as well as some of his earliest outings as a professional musician. His singing voice is, to be charitable, unrefined in places, but the pure catchiness of his songwriting offsets that. “Carried Away” and “Holy Smoke” originated here, as did “Late In Rome”, better known as “Serge”.

Tim’s contributions aren’t anything to sneeze at, however – “Semi-Detached” (one of my favorite songs that the man’s ever written), “Hypnotized”, “Next Exit” and “Remember When” originate from the Luton sessions, among many others. It’s with Tim’s songs that one can hear the most stylistic experimentation; “Hypnotized” is performed almost in the style of ’50s blues-rock, with a typically Enz twist, and some of Tim’s other tunes are similarly poised between the Enz’ early ’70s music-hall-inspired sound and more instantly accessible styles.

There are other landmarks to be heard here, especially if one has the two-disc version that was made available only to the Frenz Of The Enz fan club. That second disc, not available at retail, consists primarily of early mixes of the songs from Frenzy. Some of them, such as “Frenzy” itself, is in a decidedly unfinished form. But that disc also contains other tunes as well – Phil Judd’s last two contributions to the Enz as songwriter, “I’m So Up” and “So This Is Love”, are on the fan-club-only disc, as is “Livin’ It Up”, a song by relatively new recruit Nigel Griggs, which sees the Enz belly up to the edge of punk…and apparently back away slowly again. Judd’s two songs are a sharp reminder that, as much as some listeners regard him as the architect of the Enz’s weirder excesses, he was as capable of coming up with catchy, three-or-four-minute gems just as the Finn brothers were.

Other unusual writing credits appear; the first disc features a Griggs/Tim Finn collaboration, “Creature Comforts”, “Straight Talk” (co-written by the elder Finn and former Enz sax/horn player Robert Gillies, who had departed the band by this point and embarked on an art career that would later see him serving as, of all things, production designer for Xena: Warrior Princess), and an atmospheric-but-rather-strange song called “Animal Lover” by Eddie Rayner. These songs likely emerged from group jams – it was about as close as the Enz would ever get to an all-hands-pitch-in kind of band. The rest of the time, barring a few Eddie Rayner instrumentals, it seems that the band’s music came from the minds of Judd and/or one Finn or the other. It’s an interesting peek into avenues left unexplored. The first-ever songwriting collaboration between the Finn brothers, “Best Friend”, can also be heard, though it’s not something you’d probably be expecting if your indoctrination into the Finns’ duets was Woodface or the Finn Brothers albums.

It’s worth noting that purists might object to one thing: Rayner remixed many of the recordings, though not all. The two Judd songs originate from an appearance on the BBC’s Dave Lee Travis show, and some were left alone or had been mixed down and couldn’t be remixed. “Semi-Detached” is one such example of a song left untouched, and it certainly didn’t need any revising. But to be honest, purist or no, I’ve never heard the Luton tapes in their original state – and I doubt too many can say that they have either – so it’s not as if I have something to compare this release to so I can hear what’s changed. I also appreciate that the bulk of the Frenzy material is on the second disc only; as Frenzy is still available commercially, these alternate takes amount to music deleted scenes and outtakes (though the band is said to prefer the raw passion of the original recordings). Those who only want to hear stuff they’ve never heard before can do just fine with the single-disc version.

4 out of 4Ultimately, this collection, in either single or double disc form, may really be for-fans’-ears-only material. These aren’t new Split Enz songs (nor are there likely to be any), but the vast majority of the songs on the first disc, and a fair few on the second disc, will be new to most fans’ ears, and I’m not one to pass up on the chance to hear something new – or even just new-to-me – from either Finn. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the group’s “year from hell,” in an English summer three decades ago.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Miss Haps (4:08)
  2. Home Comforts (4:13)
  3. Animal Lover (3:16)
  4. Carried Away (4:37)
  5. Semi-Detached (5:03)
  6. Holy Smoke (3:21)
  7. Message Boy (3:47)
  8. Hypnotised (3:41)
  9. Late In Rome (3:25)
  10. Straight Talk (3:23)
  11. Hollow Victory (3:23)
  12. Evelyn (3:16)
  13. Best Friend (3:04)
  14. Creature Comforts (2:52)
  15. Remember When (3:56)

Disc two – Frenz of the Enz version only

  1. Hermit McDermitt (5:02)
  2. Betty (6:13)
  3. I See Red (3:15)
  4. Mind Over Matter (3:09)
  5. Next Exit (3:54)
  6. She Got Body She Got Soul (2:57)
  7. So This Is Love (4:14)
  8. Abu Dhabi (4:53)
  9. Famous People (4:02)
  10. I’m So Up (2:58)
  11. Marooned (2:27)
  12. Livin’ It Up (1:17)
  13. Frenzy (3:07)

Released by: Rhino
Release date: 2007
Disc one total running time: 55:25
Disc two total running time: 47:28

The Peter Br̦tzmann Octet РThe Complete Machine Gun Sessions

Peter Brötzmann Octet - The Complete Machine Gun SessionsThere are three different types of people who will listen to this album. The first person will plug their ears after 10 seconds and turn it off. The second person will continue listening, not out of the respect to the music, but out of morbid curiosity: “Is this a joke? When does the music start?” The third person will listen to the album, listen to it again, and keep on listening. Digging deeper with every nuance of Brötzmann’s music, the listener will find himself faced with the unknown derived from familiarity. It is harsh, brutal and unforgiving — but also captivating and mesmerizing.

As the story goes, three things in particular make this album unique. First, Brötzmann employs an octet for the recording of this album. While octets in jazz are not new, they are uncommon (7 years later, Ornette Coleman used an octet for the recording of his album Free Jazz, but he split it up into two quartets who played simultaneously rather than eight musicians playing all at once). The second thing is that they recorded the album not in a studio but rather at a nightclub in Germany, which provided poor acoustics. This worked in Brötzmann’s favor, however, as it added to the “dense”-ness of the album. The third thing that is unique about the record is the music itself.

Yes, it is chaoctic. Brötzmann and Co. play their instruments to the breaking point, with blasts of drums piercing the wails of saxophones and basses. Yes, it is dissonant. There seems to be no trace of melody. In fact, the only time a semblance of song structure creeps in is about 15 minutes into the title track, but the walls of noise soon overtake it. Nevertheless, this is not music that is made simply to be listened to a couple times. It’s something to reflect; examine. It is music that has to be felt.

This new 2007 remaster by Atavistic includes the original LP, and adds two more alternate takes from the same session. There is also a live version of the title track performed two months prior to the studio sessions at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival in 1968. The original LP tracks are great by themselves, but the added material really adds more to the album. The live version in particular is sensational.

Overall, it is a simply astounding piece of work, and one that has few peers in the music archives.

4 out of 4

Order this CD

  1. Machine Gun (17:19)
  2. Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven (8:20)
  3. Music for Han Bennink (11:29)
  4. Machine Gun (Second Take) (15:01)
  5. Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven (First Take) (10:08)
  6. Machine Gun (Live) (17:40)

Released by: Atavistic
Release date: 1968 (re-released 2007)
Total running time: 79:53

Star Trek: Of Gods And Men – music by Justin R. Durban

Star Trek: Of Gods And MenReleased free by the composer as a downloadable online demo, this is basically the complete score from the first act of the three-installment semi-pro fan film Star Trek: Of Gods And Men. Composer Justin R. Durban has an extensive resume that includes film and video game work, and so, like many of the stars of Gods, he’s no newcomer to the business.

In terms of how Gods stacks up to other Star Treks musically, perhaps the best comparison I can draw – though I’m not saying they sound a lot alike – is Star Trek VI: dark, subdued music in an orchetral vein, with occasional choral textures and gutturally percussive moments of action. It’s not really like anything else in the Star Trek musical canon, but then neither is the movie it accompanies.

The musical intrigue and darkness pile up quickly in the opening scenes that depict a low-level Starfleet member’s death at the hands of a mysterious visitor. Things lighten up a bit for the visit to the museum ship Enterprise, but when the story’s timeline is altered and we wind up in something like the Mirror Universe a la the Klingon Empire, things turn dark and stay that way. The percussion and rumbling low brass aren’t a million miles away from the music the accompanied the Klingons in several Star Trek movies, though that theme isn’t quoted at all – we’re talking similar instrumentation and stylistic choices.

Everything sounds convincingly orchestral, and the choral vocals pass muster as well. If anything strikes me as something that even comes close to a weak point here, it’s that the music often drops back to a low drone, which is great for dialogue, but a drone is a drone. I’m the kind of guy who’d like the composer to keep something going in the background, and let the sound mixers worry about how much sonic space the music and the dialogue are occupying, but Gods’ director (Voyager star Tim Russ) and producers may have had different ideas during spotting, in which case the 3 out of 4composer’s just following instructions/suggestions.

It’s an interesting contrast to most other music you’d associate with Star Trek – even compared to other fan films. Then again, that seems to hold true for everything to do with Of Gods And Men, not just the music.

Order this CD

  1. Main Titles – Act I (1:15)
  2. Data Clerk’s Demise (1:47)
  3. Uhura’s Log (1:31)
  4. Home Again (4:11)
  5. Charlie’s Revenge (1:28)
  6. Capturing The Fox (3:26)
  7. The Needs Of The Many (2:59)
  8. The Calm Before The Storm (2:57)
  9. Approaching The Planet (1:58)
  10. Vulcan’s Last Gleaming (1:58)
  11. End Credits – Act I (2:30)

Released by: Edgen Music
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 26:00

Star Trek: Intrepid – music by David Beukes

Star Trek: Intrepid - Heavy Lies The CrownStar Trek: Intrepid is a fan-made Star Trek spinoff, set in the post-Voyager 24th century and shot entirely in Scotland, which certainly gives it – quite literally – a unique voice. It also has a unique musical voice, with an original score for the pilot episode, Heavy Lies The Crown, by David Beukes – a score which doesn’t use one note of any established Star Trek themes, and it’s a half-hour of good music at that.

With everything from the death of the ship’s original captain, to big space battles, to moments of whimsy, to political intrigue, Intrepid would’ve forced anyone who was doing the music to run the gauntlet and prove themselves worthy. David Beukes passes the test with flying colors with music that would’ve done an actual televised Star Trek episode proud. The big fights are exciting, there’s some quiet menace going on as the plot thickens, the humorous scenes are well-done with an economy of plucked strings and woodwind samples, and there’s a kind of sweeping, panoramic, noble sound that’s almost a prerequisite if you’re going to put the words “Star Trek” on the cover.

One thing I do have to say about the Intrepid score is that Beukes knows how to get the biggest bang out of whatever sample library he’s using. With the fan-made Trek productions, it’s almost a given that your music is going to be done on synths, with samples, or a combination of the two, but in this case, there are very few places where I hear anything that instantly earmarks something as “not orchestral.” There are things you can do with samples – adding room reverb, etc. – that make them sound a bit more real, and the composer seems to have that technique down pat here. Tracks such as “Navar On The Bridge”, “You’re Making Fun Of Me” and “Conference” sound, for all intents and purposes, like he’s got real musicians and instruments miked up in the studio.

Two tracks that really mystify me a bit are “Battlestations” and “Garth’s Gambit”; they’re basically the same thing, only “Battlestations” has dialogue from the show included. I normally scream “argh!” at dialogue on a soundtrack album – even a free one! – but since the music is repeated without dialogue in the next track, I’ll let this one off the hook. I just thought it was a slightly odd choice to include a dialogue version at all, but thankfully the “clean” version is available too.

3 out of 4Overall, the Star Trek: Intrepid pilot score is a real treat for the ears (and at just the right price, too!). It manages to sound “big” in all the right places while being its own animal; there’s nothing here that sounds overly influenced by previous music under the Star Trek banner, aside from a sweeping orchestral sound. Composer David Beukes has, according to his blog, landed a real live composing/arranging/producing gig at a professional recording studio, and listening to this, I can see why. Here’s hoping he’s still got time to venture into the final frontier now and again in the future.

Order this CD

  1. Theme From Intrepid (1:22)
  2. Introduction (1:16)
  3. Captain Talath (2:07)
  4. Conflict / You Can Live With It (1:58)
  5. Brothers (1:35)
  6. Power Down (0:17)
  7. Conference (2:17)
  8. You’re Making Fun Of Me (0:54)
  9. Heroics (2:42)
  10. Wrong Again (0:22)
  11. Sealed Orders (0:43)
  12. Duty (1:58)
  13. Five To Beam Down (0:33)
  14. Chiron IV (0:58)
  15. Navar On The Bridge (1:27)
  16. Battlestations (2:13)
  17. Garth’s Gambit (2:22)
  18. Victory (0:37)
  19. Consideration (1:04)
  20. Intrepid Theme End Credits (1:16)
  21. Intrepid Trailer Theme (1:35)

Released by: David Beukes
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 29:36

Star Trek: Odyssey – music by Dexter Craig

Star Trek: Odyssey - IliadJust as I was mightily impressed with the debut installment of the Star Trek fan series Odyssey (see that review here), I was also impressed with its music – and lo and behold, San Francisco-based composer/multimedia producer Dexter Craig has made it available for free. I find myself missing the sound of the final frontier from time to time, and the Odyssey soundtrack hits the spot nicely.

Though it’s synthesized, the music from Iliad is done in an orchestral vein, and nothing here is written in such a way that an orchestra couldn’t theoretically play it. About half a year ago, I reviewed Dennis McCarthy’s CD release of the music from the 1997 CD-ROM game Star Trek: Borg, and I commented on the quality of the synth-orchestral elements available at that time; the music from Odyssey is at least on the same level from a technical standpoint.

Musically, Odyssey is graced with a stately, noble main theme that can best be described as not a million miles away from the Star Trek: Voyager theme – not stunningly similar, but there’s a definite resemblance in terms of feel. The Odyssey motif permeates the entire score, and unlike the Voyager theme, it’s designed to play well in major or minor keys. As the ship’s fate gradually becomes more dire, so too does its music – it’s all done quite cleverly. One lengthy cue, “The Attack Begins”, clocks in at just under ten minutes and puts the theme through quite a few permutations, as well as adding percussion that’s both contemporary and feels a little “ancient” at the same time. “I’m In Command!” builds on that cue’s momentum and begins throwing dark choral textures into the mix. For music that was made for an amateur film, it’s not shabby at all.

The story’s lighter moments are played well too. “Ro And Aster Get Lucky” accompanies a humorous/romantic scene with a piece that eventually breaks out into a tango. At the opposite end of the scale, the music for the scenes on the Archein homeworld and that race’s ships is dark and brooding without going overboard.

4 out of 4Overall, it’s well worth a listen, and quite a commendable effort. There are a few places where the music’s synthetic nature is obvious, but as with the rest of Star Trek: Odyssey, this is a project done without millions of dollars, for the sheer love of it. In that context, it’s good stuff and well worth the download time.

FREE DOWNLOAD

  1. Overture (0:14)
  2. Archeina (1:08)
  3. Odyssey Theme Opening Titles (1:16)
  4. Locations; Archeina To DS12 (0:45)
  5. The Briefing And In Quarters (1:45)
  6. General Morigu And Seram (0:28)
  7. We Need A Little Luck (0:39)
  8. Majan Gets Bitchy (1:36)
  9. Ro And Aster Get Lucky (1:37)
  10. Coming Up On Odyssey (0:40)
  11. Engineering And The Ceremony (0;58)
  12. Departures (2:53)
  13. I’m Dying, I Have A Headache (0:35)
  14. Doc Vaughan And The Romulan (2:28)
  15. The Attack Begins (9:10)
  16. I’m In Command! (2:58)
  17. The Conference Room (3:08)
  18. T’lorra Gets Bitchy (0:35)
  19. Stadi’s Mistake (0:41)
  20. Personal Log (2:01)
  21. End Titles (1:04)

Released by: DexFX.com
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 36:38

One final note, a sidebar to the above review: as I write this review of the Odyssey soundtrack, which was released free of charge, I’ve also been gathering other Star Trek fan films’ soundtracks to review – and I’ve been watching a controversy kick up around another fan-made series, Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, which disturbs me deeply, as it involves dancing around wording regarding whether or not the film project is making any money (if Paramount is to continue to quietly turn a blind eye to the project, it can’t make so much as a red cent). I have noticed – and I’m not going to drop names here – that there are a few composers who are charging for the music they’ve composed for these projects. I understand that sample libraries and the software and gear used to make music with them do not come cheap, but while I’m not going to try to tell them what to do, I would suggest that these composers – by flying in the face of the rest of the project of which their music is a part and trying to make a buck – may be recouping their money at the cost of putting the non-profit projects giving them exposure at risk. As an occasional amateur composer myself, I can tell you that the whole reason to attach oneself to a project such as a non-profit or student film – for which one isn’t being paid – is to gain valuable exposure, possibly including exposure to producers who will pay you to work on commercial projects. As such, I will not be reviewing any “paid downloads” of music from otherwise non-profit fan films. I’ll be happy to support the composers by giving them additional exposure through my reviews, but only if their music selections are, like the films themselves, free. – EG

Liam Finn – I’ll Be Lightning

Liam Finn - I'll Be LightningAs much of a fan of Betchadupa as I’ve been, I’m going to fess up that I wasn’t sure what to expect from Liam Finn’s first solo effort. I’d heard a live recording, and the songs were plenty catchy, but it’s so hard to tell from a live recording what the final product will be like. I needn’t have worried. We are, after all, talking about the son of Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, and after listening to I’ll Be Lightning a lot in recent weeks, I think we can say without reservation that he’s picked up his dad’s ear for crafting a great song and giving it a great performance. And when I credit Liam Finn with the performance, I’m not being disingenuous or oversimplifying things: he plays and sings every note you hear on the album.

Liam’s style is guitar-and-loop-driven, with a kind of lo-fi charm to it. He aims more for atmosphere than for high-end production, so things are occasionally a little bit fuzzy, but not to the point that it doesn’t sound good. The effect is more often mesmerizing than not. I’m going to go out on a limb and nominate “Gather To The Chapel” as the catchiest song on here. There are far faster and more densely-produced tunes on this album, but something about this song is just insanely catchy – I’ve honestly had sessions where I’ve listened to it over and over for a stretch of about half an hour. It’s just so peaceful, and I’ll be damned if I haven’t found myself whistling, singing, or humming it long after the last time I heard it. “Energy Spent” and “Music Moves My Feet” are close runners-up for the catchiest song here, in the finest Finn tradition.

While I love “Gather” and “Music Moves My Feet”, don’t go thinking that everything on here is slow/mid-tempo. “Energy Spent” and “Wise Man” are downright jaunty, while “This Place Is Killing Me” and “Lead Balloon” are balls-to-the-wall rockers. “Second Chance” and “Better To Be” are no slouches either. Young Mr. Finn’s overdubbed vocal harmonies are nothing short of astounding on some of these songs, and he’s got a great range to his singing voice.

The more I listened to I’ll Be Lightning, “Energy Spent” emerged as a song whose lyrics I identified closely with my experiences as a new father. To realize that those lyrics and the accompanying insights, in whatever original spirit they were intended, came from a young man in his twenties, is frankly humbling. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned how much I enjoyed the lyrics as well as the performance of them. To 4 out of 4play an entire album like this entirely solo is the result of hard work, intense concentration, and what may be the best rock ‘n’ roll apprenticeship anyone could hope for. I could go on and on about where I think I hear the influence of Neil or Tim here, but Liam Finn is his own man, and this is his own album, and it’s a fantastic piece of work. With such a well-crafted and polished debut album, Liam has more than earned his own spotlight out from under anyone else’s shadow. This is the best album I’ve heard this year, and I’m not sure I can actually say much more than that.

Order this CD

  1. Better To Be (3:46)
  2. Second Chance (4:52)
  3. Gather To The Chapel (3:20)
  4. Lead Balloon (4:15)
  5. Fire In Your Belly (3:15)
  6. Lullaby (2:02)
  7. Energy Spent (4:08)
  8. Music Moves My Feet (2:24)
  9. Remember When (3:04)
  10. Wise Man (5:17)
  11. This Place Is Killing Me (4:06)
  12. I’ll Be Lightning (4:14)
  13. Wide Awake On The Voyage Home (5:37)
  14. Shadow Of Your Man (2:57)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 53:17